Employee training programs are usually among the first on the chopping block as companies tighten their belts during a typical economic downturn. But the current crisis is anything but, and an increasingly remote workforce will only accelerate the need for new skills and habits to keep companies running.
That’s the consensus among the leading consultant bellwethers for corporate America, Deloitte and McKinsey, whose recent reports repeatedly call for companies to reskill their workforce. And it’s a perspective popular among entrepreneurs who have long worked in postsecondary and workforce education.
“We are in a major transformation of the economy,” says Paul Freedman, a president at Guild Education who has worked for over two decades in the education industry. “Businesses are eliminating some roles, yet are desperate to hire for others. But you cannot hire away to solve what is fundamentally a training problem.” In other words, it makes more sense to invest in training internal talent, rather than firing people and hiring replacements.
Since 2015, Guild has helped Chipotle, Disney, Walmart and other blue-chip companies to offer online education programs to their employees, which are wholly or mostly covered through their company’s tuition benefits. Those programs so far have come from a handful of providers, but a new partnership announced today will greatly expand the menu of options.
2U, a publicly traded company, will make its degree programs, short courses and online coding “bootcamps” available to Guild Education’s network of employers. That’s over 500 programs, spanning more than 30 disciplines, that they will have access to. It’s largely up to the employer to choose which ones they want to subsidize for their workers, Freedman says.
For 2U, this partnership could attract a new pool of students for the online programs it helps manage for its 75-plus partner universities. While the company has an enterprise-facing business, employers are not the primary focus of its offerings, which are designed more with schools and students in mind, says CEO Chip Paucek.
“Our two companies are complementary,” Paucek adds. “Guild helps employers offer programs based on their needs and make them available through tuition benefits. We bring in a portfolio of different programs from leading university partners.”
Most of 2U’s degree programs are at the master’s level, which may not fit what Guild’s employer partners want to offer. But there are others that Freedman anticipates demand for, such undergraduate programs from Morehouse College, a historically Black college that 2U recently announced a deal with. “The majority of Guild’s learners are learners of color, and so such a degree could have a lot of value,” he says.
The short courses and bootcamps offered by 2U through the London School of Economics and UC Berkeley could be another big draw, says Freedman.
An August 2020 survey of American adults from Strada Education suggests there is growing demand for short-term courses. “Since the onset of the pandemic, Americans have expressed a consistent preference for nondegree and skills training options,” the researchers found.
A bigger menu of courses could also draw more employers for Guild, which has raised $228.5 million in venture capital to date and is valued at more than $1 billion.
According to Freedman, Guild has been steadily adding employers to its platform during the pandemic, although he declined to disclose the total current number. Through these arrangements, more than three million workers are eligible for Guild’s educational programs.
Guild also markets its “education-as-a-benefit” service as a way to help companies attract and retain workers. But when employees are let go, they usually lose this perk. That’s happened to workers at Disney, which uses Guild to administer its employer education program.
Employers will foot the bill for programs offered through the 2U-Guild partnership, and those fees will be split between the two companies and the university, says Freedman.
This deal also offers 2U a way to establish relationships with corporate employers for other partnerships down the line. Last fall, the company worked with Netflix to create and offer technology-training programs for students and alumni at Norfolk State University, another HBCU. This arrangement was part of a broader effort to provide technology courses for underrepresented students, and also support Netflix’s efforts to diversify its own ranks.
“Over time, we hope opportunities for these kinds of partnerships and programs will present themselves,” says Paucek.
“Too often people don’t give higher education enough credit for being responsive to employers’ needs,” he adds. “But the schools we work with prove otherwise.”